Newspaper article The Florida Times Union


Newspaper article The Florida Times Union


Article excerpt

The senseless shooting of Jesse Ortiz shook Sandalwood High School.

When the 19-year-old died in March after being on life support, it only made his friends' desire for revenge stronger.

It took counselor Kathy Cobb and other mental health professionals many one-on-one and group counseling sessions to convince students to cope without reaching for a gun.

That was after Duval County schools' Crisis Team had already worked with them.

This intervention is critical to thwarting juvenile crime and improving academic performance.

Yet, Duval County's schools have only four drug and alcohol prevention counselors and a five-member Crisis Team to serve an estimated 124,945 students.

The ratio of support to need must be better balanced by placing one full-time mental health counselor in each school.

Only then will a significant barrier to student achievement begin to be torn down.


Cobb sees more than 300 students each year, many on a regular basis.

Each youth has a family background of drug or alcohol abuse. Many come at the suggestion of a friend with a similar background.

Cobb used to see families, too, but over the years the number of counselors has shrunk to four.

Funding to serve eight high schools comes under a federal grant for the Zeroing In on Prevention program.

Most students are in the same lower income neighborhoods plagued by all that drives Jacksonville's high homicide rate: loss of hope for the future, drugs, violence and poverty.

As youths grow up in this environment, they often don't learn coping skills.

Instead, they learn to react violently.

Even in other neighborhoods, kids are growing up re-enacting the family and community violence they experience.

This can lead to a path of criminal behavior or dropping out of school, especially when facing losses of parents, siblings and other loved ones.

Sylvia Johnson, principal of Eugene Butler Middle School, saw firsthand the difference counseling can make.

When she was principal of West Jacksonville Elementary School, 27 students who lost family or friends from homicide were counseled, thanks to a yearlong grant from Community Hospice. …

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